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Microplastics

Project Number # 2063

Microplastics and the environment

Wastewater is known to contain tiny particles of plastic, some may remain at the end of the treatment process. Not visible to the human eye, these plastics can make their way into the environment through wastewater effluents. Biosolids are known to contain microplastics removed in the treatment process, however, little is known about the fate of these plastics during land application.

Microplastics are already somewhat ubiquitous in the environment, due to the wide use of plastics around the world. Plastics have been found in soils, sediments, air, water and even rain in some places.  It is important to understand the background concentrations of microplastics in our local environment in order to establish a better understanding of the relative added risk posed by microplastics in wastewater effluents.

Microplastics in wastewater effluent are not currently regulated in discharge licences, however, this may change in the future. Currently there are many test methods to detect microplastics. Few have been validated and many are subject to false positive results due to procedural sample contamination.

This project will use already developed and validated microplastics sampling and test methods (incl. QA/QC) to quantify plastics in wastewater effluents, biosolids and the environment (including waterways and farmland receiving biosolids). Effluent from several plants employing different treatment processes will be tested in order to understand whether there are any simple strategies that can be used to minimise microplastics reporting to plant effluent streams.

This project will also provide an improved understanding of the background levels of microplastic particles in local Australian environments.

Objectives:

• Understand background levels of microplastics in the environment

• Determine the quantity of microplastics in biosolids and farmland onto which the solids are applied.

• Determine the quantity of microplastics in wastewater effluents for different processes